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Scouting Report: Week 4

The team that appeared to be the easiest one on Youngstown State’s schedule last year wound up shocking the Penguins at home.

Fans will see if YSU learned from that loss on Saturday.

Looking for their first 4-0 start since 2012, the 20th-ranked Penguins host Robert Morris (1-3) at 6 p.m., Saturday. While the Colonials are viewed as a lower-tier FCS program, so was Butler last year, when the Bulldogs pulled off a monumental upset.

YSU believes this year’s team is quite different from 2018, and it’s playing like it too. Prior to the bye week, the Penguins led the FCS in turnover margin (+9) as well as rushing touchdowns (13). More importantly, they’ve responded well each time they’ve been challenged.

Their focus will be tested against a Robert Morris team that earned its first win last week against VMI, but also lost to Division II Kentucky State in Week 2.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — While the Penguins used three quarterbacks in their win over Duquesne, there’s no question that senior Nathan Mays is the starter. One of the team’s leaders, the dual-threat QB has completed 60 percent of his passes and tossed four TDs compared to one interception. He’s also averaging 60 yards rushing per game with two TDs. Backup Joe Craycraft, more of a pocket passer, has played sparingly in each game. True freshman Mark Waid came in during red-zone trips against the Dukes and could add another wrinkle to the offense.

RMU — Caleb Lewis appears to have taken over at QB for the Colonials. A graduate transfer from LSU, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Lewis played fairly well in his first start. He completed 12-of-17 passes for 214 yards, one TD and one interception. Most important, the senior led RMU to its first win. George Martin started the first three games but was inconsistent. If he plays, Martin is more of a dual threat as he has 18 carries for 61 yards and one TD.

EDGE — YSU

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — It has been a while since the Penguins have used a true running-back-by-committee approach to the backfield. There have been several elite running backs at YSU over the years, but YSU found a new way to pound the ball, and it’s working. Four players have at least 150 yards and two touchdowns, and each one is averaging at least 6 yards per carry. South Range product Joe Alessi leads the pack with 201 yards on 33 carries. Christian Turner, the usual starter, Braxton Chapman and London Pearson have all made key contributions as well.

RMU — Alijah Jackson leads the rushing attack. The short and shifty Jackson (5-9, 165) has 361 yards and three TDs on 65 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He has six catches for 49 yards as well. Terence Stephens Jr., a senior, is a bigger back (6-0, 205) who has 133 yards and three TDs on 34 attempts.

EDGE — YSU

RECEIVERS

YSU — The receiving corps uses a similar style as the backs, with numerous players stepping up. Samuel St. Surin, who leads YSU in catches (8) and yards (142), and Jermiah Braswell (6 catches, 130 yards), are the main playmakers, but tight end Miles Joiner has all the makings of a star player. Ryan Emans (6 grabs, 63 yards) has been consistent in the slot as well.

RMU — Robert Morris’ biggest offensive weapon is tight end Matthew Gonzalez, a Lakewood St. Edward graduate. A first-team all-conference pick, the 6-3, 230-pound Gonzalez is coming off his biggest game of the year. He made three catches for 126 yards in the win over VMI. He’s averaging 22.7 yards per reception, with 11 for 250 yards. He set a school record with 12 TDs last year. Wide receiver Delano Madison (5-8, 190) has a team-high 12 catches.

EDGE — YSU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The line has been the strength of the offense to this point of the season, which is saying something considering other areas have done well, too. They’ve allowed just two sacks and have opened up huge holes at times for the running backs. They’ll need to continue to improve, however, as the Missouri Valley Football Conference will provide the most physical teams YSU will see all year.

RMU — Two starters return up front, where the Colonials have some size and experience. Tackle Trevor Hicks (6-5, 295) and guard Alex Minford (6-2, 290) are the stalwarts, and they’re surrounded by some fellow upperclassmen. They’ll need to be on their game against the stout defensive front of YSU.

EDGE — YSU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — After a bit of an off week against Howard, the line regrouped and played exceptional against Duquesne. They were a big reason why YSU was able to hold All-American running back A.J. Hines to 37 yards. The line won’t have star end Justus Reed for the first half as he was ejected for a “targeting” call in the second half. He leads the Penguins with five sacks. Tackle DeMarko Craig has been an absolute menace on the inside. He’s tied for the team high in tackles (19) and leads in tackles for loss with 5.5.

RMU — RMU had one of the worst defenses in the FCS last year, and coach Bernard Clark Jr. put much of that on the d-line. So, he also put an emphasis on grabbing a few junior college players to help bolster that group. Tackle Ezra Tupuola (from Laie, Hawaii) was one of them. He’s fifth on the team with 18 tackles. Jared Harris (6-3, 252) has one of RMU’s three total sacks — an obvious problem with the defense.

EDGE — YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Because of the pass-happy ways of most college football programs, YSU often uses just one linebacker in their defensive set. The ‘backers got more of a chance to play against Duquesne and performed well, with Terray Bryant making six stops and Ray Anderson adding five. Anderson also tipped a pass that was eventually intercepted. The LBs will see much more time when MVFC play begins as teams run the ball more.

RMU — The Colonials have a couple of spot starters returning at linebacker, including Thomas Neal who was third on RMU with 49 stops last year. South Range graduate Aniel Buzzacco is another linebacker. He’s currently second on the team with 32 tackles. RMU is yielding an average of 206.2 yards rushing per game.

EDGE — YSU

SECONDARY

YSU — An up-and-down secondary needs to start playing more consistently. Sure, YSU’s six interceptions is double the total of all of last year, but the Penguins have been burned quite a few times as well, with teams averaging 214 yards passing and two TDs per game. Safeties Zaire Jones and Kyle Hegedus have been the two mainstays. Hegedus is tied for the team lead in tackles (19), and Jones leads in interceptions (2). The corners have had great moments and ones they’d like to have back.

RMU — Strong safety Mason Gray paces RMU with 38 tackles. He’s also defended five passes and forced one fumble. He missed all of last year with an injury. Free safety Jacob White, a true freshman, is third on the team with 25 tackles. Both corners are upperclassmen but did not start last year. The Colonials’ secondary does not yet have an interception.

EDGE — YSU

SPECIALISTS

YSU — This is another area that needs to improve. Punter Nick DeSalvo has endured a forgettable two weeks. He averaged 22 yards against Howard, 32 against Duquesne, and YSU’s net average of 26.9 yards per punt ranks 114th out of 116 FCS teams. So, yeah, that’s not good. The Penguins also have missed three extra points in the last two games.

RMU — Sophomore Nick Biseglia is a two-year starter who is 3-of-5 on field goal attempts, with a long of 28. Punter George Souders III is averaging nearly 41 yards per punt and has pinned opponents inside the 20 three times.

EDGE — RMU

PREDICTION

RMU has endured a rough two-year stretch, but the Colonials aren’t nearly as bad as they were last year when they finished 2-9.

Lewis, a LSU graduate transfer, brought some energy to the team last week in an upset of VMI. The running game has been solid as well, with Jackson racking up back-to-back games of 100-plus yards. Still, YSU is the more talented football team. As long as they’re focused and bring the right approach to the game, the Penguins should win easily. Their run game is hard to stop, and the defensive line is loaded with talent. It should be all YSU.

YSU, 52-10.